Why The CT6 Is Cadillac’s Square-Peg Sedan

2016-cadillac-ct6-first-drive-review-car-and-driver-photo-665507-s-originalLOS ANGELES — As Cadillac prepares to launch the new CT6 large sedan, it’s trying something different in its long-running bid to challenge the German luxury brands.

It’s being different.

With almost every new entry in recent years, Cadillac has tried to match BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The Cadillac ATS and CTS sedans were developed almost inch for inch to the dimensions of their German peers, drop for drop to the engine displacement — and yes, nearly dollar for dollar on sticker price. Same with Cadillac’s go-fast V series variants, which took dead aim at the horsepower ratings and the 0-to-60 times of the German models.

But the CT6 that hits showrooms in March is its own animal. It’s a fresh approach to the big-boy luxury sedan category, one that defies categorization in terms of its size, interior space and price. As Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen told auto journalists during a media test drive here last week: “It is a car like no other.”

Big talk, for sure. But he’s got some numbers to back him up.

Even though its dimensions straddle the midsize and large-sedan categories, the CT6 looks every bit the part of a large luxury car.2016-cadillac-ct6-inline1-photo-665601-s-original

It’s got serious road presence, with a long hood and low, wide stance. Its cavernous interior rivals BMW’s 7 series and Mercedes’ S class in space.

But General Motors’ alternative approach to the CT6’s chassis development has rendered it lighter than even the smaller CTS. GM is using a mix of aluminums and high-strength steels, largely welded together with minimal riveting and fewer overall components. That has enabled Cadillac to equip the CT6 with a powertrain lineup befitting that of midsize sedans and offer the promise of sprightly, agile performance in a big-sedan package. (Journalists who test drove it here were restricted from publishing reviews until later this week).

How the Cadillac CT6 stacks up against big-sedan rivals
2016 CT6* 2016 BMW 740I 2016 Mercedes s550
Wheelbase 122.4 in. 126.4 in. 124.6 in.
Length 204 in. 206.6 in. 206.5 in.
Curb weight 3,926 lbs. 4,225 lbs. 4,773 lbs.
Front legroom 42.4 in. 41.4 in. 41.4 in.
Rear legroom 40.4 in. 44.4 in. 43 in.
Engine 3.6-liter V-6 3.0-liter I-6 4.7-liter V-8
Horsepower 335 320 449
Price** $64,565 $82,295 $95,650
*Premium luxury trim **Includes shipping

A few other numbers that underscore how the CT6 is tough to pigeonhole:

• The CT6’s wheelbase is nearly 6 inches longer than that of the BMW 5 series, but the Cadillac is lighter.

• A CT6 with a twin turbo, 3.0-liter V-6 is priced at $65,390, vs. $82,295 for the 7 series with the same displacement and power.

• The CT6 is just 2 inches shorter than the S class, though its twin-turbo V-6 model is 700 pounds lighter than the Mercedes S550 with its 4.7-liter V-8.2016-cadillac-ct6-inline2-photo-665602-s-original

Of course, the fact that the CT6 starts with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine and no V-8 underscores the fact that it is not a range-topper out to unseat the Germans’ flagship sedans.

Mercedes doesn’t even bother with an S class engine smaller than a V-8. (That engine differential also explains some of the weight difference).

De Nysschen has said there is a flagship in the works for around 2020. In the meantime, the CT6’s tweener status could make it tricky for Cadillac to pitch the car to import drivers, says IHS Automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley. IHS forecasts annual U.S. sales of 12,000 to 15,000 units in coming years.

“The bigger problem continues to be getting on the shopping lists of traditional luxury buyers,” she said.

Cadillac executives here steered clear of bold proclamations about pulling drivers out of their S class or 7 series sedans. De Nysschen was reluctant to cite any one brand for conquests, instead saying that the CT6’s unique package and “aggressive pricing strategy” should be enough to get it on the radars of luxury buyers.

“We priced the car very competitively,” he said, “and we’ll let it find its natural level in the marketplace.”

Cadillac CT6
The 2016 CT6 is a “tweener” — closer to a big luxury sedan in size and closer to a midsize lux sedan in price. Cadillac wants to carve its niche as a driver’s car, one that can satisfy the affluent customer’s desire for a spacious and nattily appointed cabin without giving up tight and nimble driving dynamics. It will serve as Cadillac’s flagship sedan for several years — at least — as the brand’s comeback bid unfolds. It returns Cadillac to the brand’s “spiritual home” of big luxury sedans, brand chief Johan de Nysschen said. But “it is absolutely forward-looking and forward-thinking.”2016-cadillac-ct6-inline1-1-photo-665603-s-original

Powertrains: A 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder and a new 3.6-liter V-6 both serve as base engines; a Cadillac-exclusive 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 tops the lineup. Each will be mated to a GM-developed, eight-speed automatic transmission.

Technology: Active rear-wheel-steering feature to improve cornering and traction

Safety: Enhanced night vision identifies people and animals via heat-signature images in the driver-information screen.

Sales target: 10,000 to 15,000 vehicles a year in U.S., per forecasting firms

Competitors: BMW 5 series or 7 series; Mercedes E class or S class; Audi A6 or A8

Strengths: Exceptional driving dynamics for a big sedan

Weaknesses: No V-8 engine option

Bottom line: Cadillac showed confidence in the CT6’s ride-and-handling chops by allowing some 100 journalists to flog the car on twisty mountain roads outside San Diego. Across the engine lineup, it returned driving characteristics of a smaller performance sedan. Now, Cadillac marketers have the tough task of convincing import-leaning buyers to take one for a test drive.

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